In The Wealth of Nations, why does Smith think that pursuing one's personal interest is a more effective way to benefit society than trying to pursue the interest of society as a whole?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The idea that pursuing private interests can lead to public benefits was first advanced some seventy years before Smith's Wealth of Nation in The Fable of The Bees: or, Private Vices, Public Benefits by the Anglo-Dutch philosopher Bernard Mandeville. The key revolutionary economic idea of this work was that spending, including spending on luxuries, provided a greater economic stimulus than saving. Thus, what was typically considered prudent and morally good—the life of restraint and thrift—actually harmed the economy, while spendthrifts helped the economy. The aristocrat who threw lavish parties, owned large stables of horses, and ordered expensive clothing, lavish artwork, home furnishings, and jewelry provided work for far more people than the one who lived simply and saved money. 

While Mandeville's work was considered scandalous in his time, Smith expanded and refined some of Mandeville's ideas and, from that kernel, created a system of economic thought that accounted for how...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 508 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team